For those of you who still think kosher wine means kosher-aisle, bottom-shelf Kedem Concord Cream Red, sip on this: Bartenura Moscato has the highest sales of imported Moscatos in the United States. Eighty-five percent of the signature blue bottle dessert wine sells to consumers unconcerned with kosher status.
As it does once a year, JTNews sat down with Michael Friend of Royal Wine Corp. to taste new, high quality kosher-for-Passover wines to the local market. This year’s flight featured five Israeli wines, two locals from California and Washington State, and — for the first time ever — three spirits: A cognac, a Scotch, and a vodka liqueur. All but the Scotch and vodka are kosher for Passover, and most items are available at QFC Mercer Island and University Village, Albertson’s, and Wine World.
Editor Joel Magalnick and I were joined by esteemed guests Ned Porges, Jerry Barrish, Josh Furman, Jason Dishlip, Elise Peizner, and Tzippy Wiens at the lovely Chai Lounge on the 13th floor of the Summit at First Hill. Wines marked with an [M] can be considered mevushal.
Without further ado: Our rankings!
Elise Peizner poses with the Pacifica Pinot Noir.
Best local wine:
Pacifica Pinot Noir (Washington, $25.95)
Indeed, the Pacifica ran unopposed in this category, but it’s worth pointing out to you locavores that Washington State does have its own kosher wine, which won “Best New Wine of 2012” at Kosherfest 2012 USA. This Pinot Noir, unfortunately, pales in comparison to last year’s sumptuous Meritage. On a scale of 1 to 5, our reviewers gave it an average of 2.75. Josh called it “mellow and smoky” and tasted notes of “campfire.” “Instead of being strong, it seems to glow” on the tongue, said Ned. Though a little immature, this is still a good, dry wine.
Josh Furman contemplates a red.
Domaine Netofa Galilee Red (Israel, $21.99): Jason smelled vanilla and cotton candy, and Ned found it astringent and deep — a wine to sip, not drink. Pair it with grilled meat or cheddar cheese. Tzippy rated this “best bet for hostess gift” and anointed it the “new Wiens house wine.”
Carmel Appellation Cabernet Sauvignon (Israel, $20.99): Both wines met equally good reviews (4 out of 5), but evoked different responses. Josh thought it smelled like new rain and picked up a taste of seaweed, and Joel found a bit of anise at the finish. Tzippy called it the “wine equivalent of an Old Spice commercial.” If this leaves any doubt in your mind, Wine Enthusiast magazine gave it a rating of 90.
Jason Dishlip studies his selection.
Best wines for your seder:
Psagot Edom (Israel, $33.99): Recommended alongside roasted meat, stew, and robust pasta dishes, the Psagot got high ratings from the tasting team, who found in it aromas of chocolate, pipe tobacco, and leather, and flavors of cherry and pepper, even “mild salsa,” contributed Joel. Finally, a wine we can pair with shank bone and roasted egg!
Baron Herzog White Riesling (California, $11.99 [M]): If you are sentimentally attached to the idea of sticky sweet Manischewitz at your seder table, consider opting for this Riesling. Jerry called it “sweet but not cloying,” and Elise, who picked up honey and peach, deemed it “adult juice.”
“My grandmother would love this,” said Tzippy. “I should send her a bottle.”
“Berrylicious,” said Joel.
Remember: You do need to drink four cups, and two of them are after the meal. This dessert wine is a great way to close the night.
Bin Chardonnay (Israel, $12.99 [M]): Scoring a 4 out of 5, our tasters picked up apricot, melon, honey, peach, even butterscotch aromas and flavors. Stored in stainless steel rather than oak, Bin is light, smooth, and easy going down.
“I’m not a huge chardonnay fan, but this was good for a chardonnay,” said Jason. A good choice for white wine drinkers, or if your seder table is heavy on fish and vegetarian dishes.
Michael Friend introduces the Tomintoul Scotch to Ned Porges.
Tomintoul 16-year Scotch (Scotland, $105.99, not kosher for Passover)
This award-winning Scotch deserves a dark room, a leather chair, and a special occasion. Our tasters picked up hints of caramel and maple. “Cinnamon and nutmeg finish adds depth,” wrote Josh. “Smooth and delicate even for a non-Scotch drinker.”
Best new find:
Walders Vodka & Vanilla (Holland, $38.99, not kosher for Passover)
“MUST BUY! WINNER!” raved Josh. “A real treat after a hard day…or an easy day…delicious always.”
“Tastes like birthday cake and trouble!” wrote Tzippy.
Good on its own over ice or mixed with Sprite, Walders is the pancakes and maple syrup of liqueurs. The taste of vodka is barely noticeable, favored by a sweet (but not too sweet), custardy cream. But wait, it gets better: Walders is dairy, soy, and nut free, and it accounts for only one Weight Watchers point. But you have to wonder: What makes it so creamily perfect?
The answer is: We don’t know. Nowhere on the packaging or on the Walder’s website are the ingredients disclosed. So drink responsibly. Too much, and you may grow a sixth finger.
One more thing: It is imperative that you shake the bottle before pouring.
Best all around:
Binyamina SR Cab (Israel, $22.99 [M])
This Israeli Cabernet scored 4.5 out of 5 and evoked anise, Indian spices, even a “shouk spice market.” Elise found it “very earthy.”
“Wow on the nose,” Michael observed. He brought up the average when he gave it a rating of 6 — off the charts!
“Great body,” wrote Joel. “Delicious.”
Jerry found it very complex and “woodsy.” If you like a nice, bold red that holds back from being too strong, this is for you. And at $22.99, it nearly makes a three-way tie as “best deal.”
Best kosher for Passover spirit:
Louis Royer Cognac VSOP (France, $85.99)
A kosher cognac is an exciting thing, though the Louis Royer did not go over terribly well. Our trusty tasters gave it a dreary 2.3 out of 5, likening it to rubbing alcohol and shoe polish. However, cognac enthusiasts may beg to differ with these reviews (some people like shoe polish, right?), and we invite you to bring this to your seder tables and get back to us with your thoughts. After all, paired with matzoh and gefilte fish, it might be just the thing.